While quite a number of spots on the Dodgers‘ 25-man roster are presumably set in stone, the bullpen is still a complex gray area that’s loaded with plenty of question marks. Yet after the dust finally settles at the end of March, versatile righty Ross Stripling may have found a spot among the big league relief corps.
As many pundits believe that a seven-man bullpen for the Dodgers is the likely route that management will take, we’ve already discussed that the option of an eight-man bullpen is still in play, at least for the beginning of the season. Regardless, considering the overall performance of the relief crew this spring, Strip may have leapfrogged a few arms which were considered early locks.
Even president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is the first to admit that building a functional bullpen is often a very difficult task.
“It’s something every year heading into the season that scares me,” Friedman told Bill Plunkett of the OC Register at the beginning of 2017 spring training. “It’s a very tricky part of roster construction.”
There’s no question that the Dodgers have plenty of arms to choose from, but the fact that several have no options remaining on their contracts — most specifically Chris Hatcher, Luis Avilan and Brandon Morrow — presents the Dodgers with a few tough decisions when putting together the Opening Day roster. Throw in the thumb injury of Pedro Baez, the sore back of Sergio Romo and the ineffectiveness of guys like Hatcher and Josh Fields, and it makes the prospective outlook seem even more cloudy. And with the notable injury histories of three guys in the team’s prospective starting rotation, the presence of an arm like Stripling’s could possibly come in very handy.
Many fans got to know Stripling for the first time last season when he earned the fifth starting spot in the Dodgers’ rotation out of 2016 spring training, and when took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning in his major-league debut against the Giants, having been removed and watching the bullpen blow his 2-0 lead.
During the 2016 regular season, Strip made 22 appearances, 14 of which were starts, and posted a 3.96 ERA with 74 strikeouts over an even 100 innings of work. So far this spring, he has seen action five times, and has surrendered four earned runs in nine innings while striking out 11 batters. But perhaps the biggest advantage for Stripling is his ability to throw in long relief, make an emergency spot start, or even appear as a middle-inning setup man out of the bullpen.
When looking at his repertoire, Stripling’s four-seam may not be the fastest on the radar gun, but his arsenal of breaking pitches is just plain nasty. He has solid command of four quality pitches — his fastball, for which he has pinpoint accuracy, a really vicious slider, a very effective changeup, and his trademark plus-plus curve ball that has an insane amount of break.
As far as our roster projections go, we currently have Stripling ahead of Fields, with Hatcher still hanging on to a spot by a thin thread. But as management will likely begin to reveal hints of direction over the coming week, please be sure to check back frequently for any news or updates.
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